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"Most autistic people like myself would never want to change who we are."

If your child has just been diagnosed as autistic, you’ll find there’s no shortage of people wanting to give you advice. There’s a huge range of experts out there, and endless blogs by other parents of autistic children.

But Briannon Lee, an autistic social worker and scientist, urges you to start somewhere else.

“If you feel like spending hours on Google looking for treatments, please wait until you have first spent hours online reading the words of autistic people,” Lee tells Mamamia. “Listening to them will give you an understanding of what your children are experiencing now, and a sense of the full lives autistic adults are living. You will find most autistic people like myself would never want to change who we are, despite the fact that we live in communities that rarely understand or accommodate our needs.”

Lee believes autistic children should never be forced to do things that cause them distress.

“Eye contact is excruciating for many autistic people like myself. Being pushed to eat a range of foods is hard when we just want something simple and predictable, or have huge sensory aversions. Being forced to sit still, and especially stop stimming, harms us. Stimming – the repetition of movements or sounds to soothe or stimulate the senses – is like breathing for autistic people. It helps our bodies and minds relax and process the world.

“There is nothing harmful to others if we don’t make eye contact, we flap our hands, or we don’t try new foods. It’s only looked down on because people want us to ‘act normal’.”

Lee says pressuring children to conform to these norms is very stressful. It also tells them that the way they are wired is not accepted by the people who love them.

“Some autistic adults learn to glance at people when needed during important conversations, or fidget instead of flapping their hands and rocking during a job interview. Some autistic people choose never to change their natural ways of moving and communicating, or simply cannot even if they wanted to, and that should be completely acceptable.”

Lee has three autistic children herself, who she homeschools. She says some autistic children love school, if they are well supported and accommodated.

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"But I think most autistic children find the sensory onslaught, the large numbers of children in one place, and demands to be still and quiet in the midst of that chaos, very stressful," she adds.

"Home education is wonderful because autistic children can learn away from the sensory stress of a classroom. They can meet up with other homeschooled children and have a lot more time downtime to recharge in between. They can be themselves without the pressure of fitting in. They can follow their deep passions without being interrupted to move to the next task.

"Removing my children from formal education was the best thing I ever did. They are relaxed and blossoming in confidence."

Lee only discovered she was autistic herself after her first child was diagnosed.

"Only after I started reading writing by autistic women did my struggles with Christmas parties, open plan offices, answering the phone and large shopping centres start to make sense," she remembers. "And now I have wonderful friends who also have discovered they are autistic after their children, many whose autism was especially unnoticed because they are women and there are so many male-centred stereotypes about autism."

She says the biggest thing that changed her perspective on autism was learning about neurodiversity.

"That is, seeing autism as a natural part of the wide diversity of human brains, and therefore something natural that does not need fixing."

Lee says her children experience the world with a "beautiful unfiltered intensity" and find joy in small things.

"I love that they throw themselves into their interests with passion, whether that be Paw Patrol, painting or collecting beautiful rocks. My autistic children are disinterested in following the crowd, and that makes them both vulnerable and wonderful."

You can read more from Lee at Respectfully Connected.

Have you changed your views on autism after reading the experiences of autistic adults?

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